‘Insight and Industry’- The Tavern Photo Project

I’m sitting here drinking a Trad and looking at these black and white photos. Jesus, how did this all get started?

I guess for me, it started many years ago. One warm summer day, I set out in a frenzy, desperate to find a place to write outside my house. The place had to be just right. Coffee shops were too bright, restaurants were too busy, and most bars were too loud. The point, after all, was to get lost in my work and let the world around me do as it would.

As my regular readers will know, I settled at last upon The Tavern on Whyte as my second home, sanctuary, and personal writer’s retreat. I’ve shared the reasons for that decision on this blog before (See: ‘My Abode’ and ‘Ode to The Tavern’), so this article isn’t about The Tavern itself, it’s about the people it impacts.

An industry bar on Edmonton’s busy Whyte Avenue—The Tavern sees its share of one-offs and curious pop-ins. Early afternoons usually had a good crowd for it’s famous breakfast menu—and stellar all-around meals—but the bar would generally remain quiet enough to get some serious writing done.

Nights were a different scene—the bar crowded with familiar faces as live music blared, and cheap Jager flowed.

I’ll confess this bit suited me just fine as well.

Then, just as the world was re-opening and learning to operate under the ongoing threat of COVID-19, I was enjoying a breakfast when my friend and the owner of The Tavern, Tim, mentioned that they were changing out the photos on the wall.

I think I managed to hide it well, but I was worried. The photos—a series of black and white tableaus from days gone (along with an assortment of band flyers and other oddities)—were familiar. They had adorned the walls since I’d started writing there many years ago. I still had a VIP card in my wallet from 2014, and was reticent to endorse anything that could in any way change the place I’d come to love so much.

Then, Tim mentioned he wanted to include one picture of my novel, ‘Edgar’s Worst Sunday’, which had been written by hand at table 7. This warmed me on the idea. It felt good to imagine being a part of the place forever—or at least until the next change of photos.

As things would pan out, I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Behind the scenes, new ideas blossomed, and a tiny renovation project soon became a significant artistic undertaking.

The Tavern’s regulars are not a homogenous group. Its populace includes people of all persuasions: Punks, Metal heads, Karaoke singers, Muses, (one) Juggalo, Nerds, Painters, Writers, DJ’s, Musicians, VHS Connoisseurs, Horror buffs, Hippies, Industry Folk, and more. And there’s one, Owen Armstrong, who is a photographer.

Owen began taking photos when he was working as a projectionist in London, England.  An idea started resurfacing during those hours spent working alone in a dark projection booth. It was an idea that had first appeared while he worked a previous job—assessing alcohol service in bars all around the city. He wanted to take photos of bartenders, with various themes for each shoot. The concept began to take hold, and years later the idea of ‘industry’ would become a predominant theme in his work. The aim was to reveal what people looked like when, rather than primped and posed, they revealed themselves simply and honestly as who they were during so much of their day—specifically, while they were at work.

With plenty talent for the task, Owen was a natural choice for the Tim to approach about the photos he wanted. He knew the bar, the patrons, and understood the perspective needed.

At first, the intention was simple—recreate one of the original photos with some of The Tavern’s regulars.  The photo—one which sat just to the right of my head as I did much of my writing—featured seven men enjoying a drink. I’d often looked up at it as I searched for inspiration.

With Tim uninterested in appearing in the recreations, that left Owen to gather up another 6 regulars, which was an easy enough task. It took a few beers each, a couple of takes, and a good deal of cajoling, but eventually the likeness between the old and the new was undeniable. In an effort to document the process, Owen also opted to take individual portrait photos of everyone involved.

The shoot was a success, and the picture was shared around on a newly created Facebook group. If a small job was the aspiration, this may have been a crucial mistake.

It didn’t take long for interest to blossom, and the initial sprout of idea was soon a jungle of potential. The first photo was a recreation of a ‘good ole boys’ photo, so next came the challenge of recreating the image of an old social hall.

Soon the requests to take part seemed endless. Schedules dictated groups and shooting dates. For my shoot, I was asked to bring a copy of my novel, ‘Edgar’s Worst Sunday’. Owen had managed to find an old typewriter, which I was set up at as Black Dog’s own Joseph Rothrock read my book at the bar. This one wasn’t based on one of the original photos—Owen was exploring a mix of candid bar shots and scripted layouts.

This approach continued with the Karaoke crowd. By popular demand, this tight-knit group was brought together to strike a pose commemorating the incredible karaoke nights the denizens of The Tavern have sorely missed this past year.

The final shoot was an eclectic gathering that captured all the remaining key faces and regulars of The Tavern interested in taking part. With this last group of familiar faces gathered around The Tavern’s largest table, Owen captured a sense of communal atmosphere. This feeling of community is not only one of the hallmarks of The Tavern, it also became one of the highlights of this project—at least for this writer.

So here I am. I’m about three Trads deep at this point, and feeling pretty good. Trad does that, of course, as does good company. It’s something more than that though—an inexplicable understanding that has been welling up ever since I was fortunate enough to be asked to take part in this incredible project.

Owen set out to capture insights into the lives of industry workers, and I believe this was a great step towards that goal. More than that however, he captured the life of one particular bar—and the interconnected lives within it.

Over the years I’ve written in The Tavern, I’d often look up at the old black and white photographs, and wonder who those people were. What did they talk about, what did they drink, where did they end up?

Now, the combined portraits of everyone that took part in The Tavern Photo Shoot are joined into a mural that will also one day hang on the wall. On close examination, you can see the weathered, joyful, and mad faces of each in turn. Stepping back though, there is a clear Gestalt effect of something more than the sum of its parts. This project was about people coming back together who had long been kept away from their chosen habitat. It was a family reunion—a consummation and confirmation of a deep-seated understanding between many—perhaps all of them—that within the red walls of this tiny bar there was a lot to be found. There was employment, there was comfort. There were connections, relationships, heartbreaks, hopes, and some damn good memories.

There is life—as complex, messy, and downright beautiful as it can get.

I can’t help but imagine that far in the future, someone may look up at the new photos and wonder who we were.

There will be new connections then—a whole new set of regulars.

Industry can be seen as a cold thing, and the bars and clubs of Whyte Avenue will go on far longer than any of their current patrons. New groups will form, and perhaps new photos will eventually go up.

For now, my last Trad is finished. I’d planned to go home once this project was completed, but I think I’ll stay a bit longer. I often do. To chat with friends, watch strangers, and enjoy the moment.

The Tavern is like a second home to many. COVID slowed things down, and even now half the tables are blocked, and bar service is halted. Still, people trickle in, bump elbows, and chat like they always have. Behind the bar, the servers smile and laugh along with the rest.

In this place, there is a sense of permanence—a feeling of community. Despite the tribulations of the year, things continue much as they always have.

I hope they always will.

To learn more about The Tavern on Whyte, please visit here.

 For more about Owen Armstrong and his ongoing photography projects, please visit:

Owen’s Website

Owen’s YouTube

Owen’s Instagram

Owen’s MixCloud

To Purchase my novel, ‘Edgar’s Worst Sunday’, click here.

Cheers,

-Brad OH Inc.

On Cakes, Masks, and Coming Full Circle

As usual, it all comes down to ‘freedom’.

Freedom—that elusive catch-all that Americans (and others) so adore bandying about when they can’t have everything they want.

Not unlike a toddler wailing about the world’s injustices because he was sent to his room for hitting his sister, the concept of freedom is all too often used as a self-serving cudgel against the opposing needs of all other people.

Not too long ago, it was about wedding cakes. A significant group of mouth-breathing idiots felt that they were wronged for being ‘forced’ to make wedding cakes—their job mind you—for homosexual couples, because it violated their sense of religious freedom.

Well, they got what they wanted.

While there was no shortage of protests and boycotts, the general consensus was that a business has a right to serve who they see fit.

A glorious day for ‘freedom’, no doubt.

Perhaps predictably, the muddled minds of the masses have since shifted, and they now want exactly the opposite.

In the age of COVID-19, more and more businesses are opting to require customers to don a mask before entering their store.

Tyranny!

In a turn of fortune that surprised no one, the troglodytic morons are now crying that this choice by businesses is a violation of their precious freedom.

So, I suppose it goes something like this:

When it comes to baking a loving couple a cake, it is essential that businesses have the right to refuse service…because freedom.

However, when it comes to keeping the community safe and enforcing the recommended guidelines of medical professionals, businesses have no right to decide who to serve—the customer’s freedom to spread the plague through their slack-jawed maws trumps all other rights.

To be fair, maybe this isn’t really about freedom. Maybe, just maybe, it’s all about another hot-button word that gets thrown around all too often—entitlement.

There are certain groups—in America and abroad—who are not used to hearing the word ‘no’. Tragically, these are not the toddlers from our earlier example, but fully-grown adults in all but mind and temperament.

We’ve written before about what it takes to live in a society—the give and take, the respect for others, and the understanding of differences. Freedom is not the right to do whatever you please whenever you want, and if it is, then there is nothing to stop your neighbour from exercising her freedom by smashing your skull in. That’s not a free society—it’s the utter lack of a society. Society is about compromise.

Simply, you are not free to hurt others, or put them at undo risk, and if a business has a right to deny service to lifestyles they disagree with, then they damn sure have a right to deny service to selfish assholes who think only of themselves at the expense of those around them.

The mask debate was never about liberty, it’s about a lack of perspective—a failure to consider the experiences or needs of anyone but themselves. It comes from a place of privilege, an expectation that everything should revolve around them. It isn’t about God-given and inalienable freedoms, it’s a reaction to the feeling of frustration that comes with not getting their own way for once.

In short, it’s myopic, misanthropic, and fundamentally miserable.

It’s a pathetic state of affairs, but perhaps the previous analogy can still shed some light on the situation. Like the boy sent to his room for putting his freedom to hit over his sister’s freedom to be safe, perhaps a time-out from society is in order. If a person is unable or unwilling to consider the needs of others—if they are so pig-headed and paranoid that they will openly flaunt their disregard for the well-being of the society in which they live, then perhaps they don’t deserve to participate in that society at all. After all, if they are free to infect and jeopardize others, there must undoubtedly be a corresponding freedom to respond in like-kind.

The wheel never stops turning, and our actions for good or ill inevitably come back again. Just like the fight to refuse service has now come around to bite these hateful ne’er-do-wells, so too may their spite and self-focus smite them in the end.

What do you think?

-Brad OH Inc.

COVID Contemplations

Under the Green Desk Lamp…

Green DesklampIt’s been a while since I’ve written anything on this blog. Strange times are upon us, and the slow spiral of the world down the drain seems to accelerate.

For four months, the world has been in the heavy grip of COVID-19, yet with the best medical and scientific knowledge in the world at our fingertips, people balk at the request to make even the slightest changes to help prevent disaster.

It’s nothing new, of course. It never is. The same apathetic attitude permeates efforts to implement sensible gun laws, to curb climate change, and most presciently, to reform the brutal, racist policing in the United States and beyond.

In what may be the most teachable moment in the last several generations, America stands poised to learn absolutely nothing. As soon as they got out of quarantine, the hopped merrily back to the killing of black citizens in the streets, the intentional misunderstandings of science, and the distrust of anything claiming to have the truth.

It’s a maddening age, and it of any writer with a passion for political commentary or dystopian futures is likely to find themselves dumbfounded by the world’s ability to defy the plausible and mock the logical.

As for myself, I’ve been working on two novels, which are coming along nicely. I’ve also written several short stories, one of which will soon be published in the Edmonton Writer’s Group Fourth Anthology of Stories. More news on that to come.

In the meantime, I remain at a loss of what to say here—and thus divert my attention elsewhere. What is missing? Is there any topic or situation you the reader would like explored? Let me know in the comments at the bottom of this page, or by e-mail (link on the homepage).

Until then, when the future dries up, many tend to glorify the past. And when the world seems to play ceaselessly at the same silly games, the past is as good an indicator as any.

In light of that, over the next few weeks I’d like to re-share a couple of articles which are—sadly—as relevant today as they were then.

The first will be about the concept of ‘not talking about politics’. What does it mean for an issue to be political, and when is it OK to talk about these issues?

The second is a short story, published for the first time in full on this blog. It’s about a Police Officer’s experience at a protest, and the conflict he experiences. Suffice it to say that in light of the riots for police reform currently sweeping the globe, its due time for a good many officers to look inside and ask themselves what their values really are.

I hope you enjoy these posts over the next couple week.

Your friends,

-Brad OH Inc.

Re-Share: Has Bernie Sanders Been Casting Pearls Before Swine?

As the world sits silently and watches the COVID-19 crisis unfold, it is easy to feel like life is on pause as we learn to face this new and unexpected challenge. Perhaps sadly, that is not the case, and even as we focus on the fresh fight ahead of us, old and familiar cycles are repeating themselves right under our noses.

Today, we look back to a post from June 5th, 2016. Has America learned nothing in the four years since then?

**************************************

This week, the American people will have their final chance to capitalize on the heartfelt platform of hope proffered by presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Will they take this opportunity, or has Bernie merely been casting pearls before swine?

We’ll find out on June 7th, as the DNC hosts their final major round of primaries, with 6 states holding contests, and a grand-total of 694 pledged delegates up for grabs. As of the writing of this article, the pledged delegate count sits at 1500 for Bernie Sanders, and 1770 for his opponent Hilary Clinton.

It must here be noted that this does not include super-delegates—the patently undemocratic party elites who are afforded the opportunity to pledge their loyalty according to their personal interests, rather than the will of their constituents. Of these, Hillary currently has 520, while Bernie holds a comparably measly 45. Although these super-delegates have currently promised their loyalty as such, their support is not locked in until the Convention in July. It’s possible therefore that the events of June 7th could weigh heavily on this final process, and herein lays Bernie Sander’s greatest hope.

sandersBased on these current numbers, Sanders would need to take ~71% of the vote on the 7th in order to enter the Convention with a compelling argument. It’s a tall order to be sure—but not wholly impossible. Still, even if Sanders and Clinton went to convention with relatively equal delegate counts, the onus would be on Sanders to convince the super-delegates to throw their support behind him—a revolutionary thinker who has consistently challenged the very sort of entrenched Establishment politics upon which the super-delegates are based.

It’s not an encouraging scenario, and it brings us back to our initial question. In his campaign, Bernie has been infallibly consistent in the message he’s delivered to the American electorate. His vision is that of a nation which values its people as a whole, and not simply its business owners and billionaires. He has captivated the youth and other well-meaning people of the nation with the rather seditious notion that government must serve its people: that fair taxes must be paid by everyone, and that the use of those taxes must at all times be aimed at improving the station of the population as a whole—rather than merely protecting the interests of the rich and powerful.

For the majority of the civilized world, these ideas are already held as sacrosanct. Unfortunately for him, Bernie Sanders is running in America, where the reek of Reaganomics still lingers in the very fabric of the economic structures, and the working class still confuses the meanings of freedom and fiefdom.

So if Bernie’s natural empathy for the working class and indefatigable hope for the future have captured the minds of the electorate, it may prove rather less effective in securing the support of the ruling elite. Rather, his argument will soon switch focus—insisting (and not without merit) that he is the most likely Democratic contender to topple Donald Trump—that unholy mess streaming down from the recently self-eviscerated GOP.

Unfortunately, the Democratic National Committee is firmly entrenched in its current politics—hell, their pocketbooks depend on it. So this argument—though valid—may still fall upon deaf ears, leaving America in a more dismal situation than ever.

If June 7th turns sour for Bernie, this rare opportunity for positive growth will have been momentarily squandered, and Americans will be left with a choice between Donald Trump: a hair-brained demagogue promising to fan the already raging flames of fear and bigotry, or Hillary Clinton: a sorry shill of a candidate whose sound-bite message changes with every opinion poll, but whose true priorities are as intrinsically tied to Wall St. and the corporate elite as is her fundraising. Either would likely mean another four years of rule by corporate interests…and a depressing admission that despite the growing mass of well-informed and even-headed voters, the powers that be still have a fatal stranglehold on American politics.

For voters on both sides of the political spectrum, this scenario would amount to little more than a compulsion to vote for the ‘lesser of two evils’—all while knowing full well that the end result will favour the entitled rich, and further isolate the vast majority of society from active political discourse.

1401x788-Screen-Shot-2015-06-04-at-12.45.15-PMHowever, this won’t be the case…at least not entirely. The message Bernie has been spreading is nothing new—hell, he’s been saying it the entirety of his 35-year political career, and most of his life besides that. What’s more, it is the ever-growing sentiment of the caring and politically-informed—not restricted to the young alone as the media often claims—open and accessible to all with the mind to understand the scope of their situation, and the resolve to damn well do something about it.

Bernie has not created this movement, but rather he has acted as the lightning rod for an already growing resistance. He has become the voice of a generation who have had enough of the unfair playing field they have been given, and who seek to build a system that is fair and compassionate; one which provides for all of its citizens the opportunity to flourish in a country which has no justifiable reason to offer anything less.

While Bernie has been the mouthpiece, this surging tide will not end with his campaign (should it indeed end). Bernie Sanders has shone a light on the reality of our station—showing countless people that they are not alone in their hope for a better world, and that they are not naively idealistic in their expectations. This ever increasing sense of justice is one that cannot help but spread, simply because it is rooted in a truth far more fundamental than the forces of greed and vice against which they strive.

If Bernie’s message could be encapsulated in a few words, it would be this: ‘We can do much better’. He has spoken this time and again—sounding often enough like a broken record—and despite the potentially disappointing results of this year’s primaries; his message has not fallen on deaf ears. People perceive how much better we can do, and even though the forces of greed may once again prevail, the lasting sentiment of this movement will continue to flourish. Now, its message is a bit different. The knowledge of a better world is beyond doubt, but so too are the obstacles to obtaining it all the more evident.

So perhaps Bernie has cast pearls before swine—far too many swine at least. But his pearls have nonetheless been plucked up by deserving and admirable minds, and their message now, seeing the fight before them, may be best expressed with a line stolen from the late great Pete Seeger. Democratic Socialism and Bernie Sander’s Revolution are of one clear and conscientious message: ‘We are not afraid.’

sanders-vpr-laslo-20150910So, although trampled and despoiled, pearls they remain. And if there are dark times ahead, then so too is there the promise of brighter days. The masses, I am convinced, have been awoken, and never again will their eyes be closed to the truth of their oppression, nor from the laudable promise of a fair and equitable world which values it’s humanity above its finances. For this at least, we owe Bernie Sanders a debt of thanks—time alone will reveal just what a great debt that is.

-Brad OH Inc.